Dec ’19 Q&A – When Expectations are Off and Trust Gets Lost

Q. I am currently feeling like a failure as a parent. My 12 year old daughter is smart, well behaved, does well in school. However, there are 2 main areas where we fight and tempers flare resulting in a tense hostile environment at home. 

1) She sneaks food. She loves junk food like cookies and chips. We have a policy at home where the kids get to choose 2 junk items from the pantry as snack after school. And the deal is they don’t eat anything later. It works in most part, but she ends up taking 1-2 extra things on the side to her room. I am worried about the impact of constant junking on her teeth & overall health. She just cannot stop herself from eating. I cannot constantly monitor her and increasing the ‘allowed’ unhealthy stuff on a daily basis is not an option. 

2) The other is her watching You Tube, again without my knowledge. She has to use the laptop for homework, and I cannot baby sit while she is doing that as I have another kid and work to take care of. And mainly I want to give her the independence of making the right choices in the long term. Watching screen distracts her from homework, impacts the quality of her work so it takes till dinner time to complete! Plus, I don’t approve of what she watches. While age appropriate they are a waste of time and not shows that will enrich her, improve her skills and help her grow as an individual. 

A. My advice is to trust that your daughter is smart, well-behaved and competent. It’s all-too natural for our fears to get in the way of trusting who our children are. She is a child, and her job is to do what she wants when she wants. She is not yet thinking about what is good for her health and well-being, what she should be doing to enrich herself. Did you think about this when you were 12? The fact that she does well in school indicates that she does care about how well she does. So, when she doesn’t have to, she wants to have fun—of course. Your job is to think about her future, not hers—yet.

In terms of junk food and YouTube, think about it this way—she will do what she wants if she can. Like many children, she has a sweet tooth. She doesn’t have to be hungry to be tempted by available snacks and YouTube. She doesn’t care about tooth decay, what junk food is doing to her body or the effects of mindless videos. She just knows what she wants. She knows you are limiting it and so she has to sneak.

My advice is do not have junk food in the house. There are many nutritious snacks that are organic and less processed. Limiting and policing any unwilling person’s eating will lead to hoarding and sneaking. What you have in the house is your job. And it’s your job to be in charge of her health. That’s why children live with parents for 18+ years.

Your current policy works against her rather than with her. Expecting her to limit herself is unrealistic. My suggestion is to let her know that it is your job not hers to make sure she eats healthy food and so you are going to buy only healthy snacks and then remove your limitations. Let her work out with her sibs who gets what. Perhaps once a week provide a special treat for everyone. That way the food will not be in her face tempting her. She will be angry for a while. Accept that and validate her feelings but do what you know is best.

And instead of expecting her to limit her YouTube time so she is not distracted from the things she doesn’t care so much about like homework, problem solve with her and together come up with how much time is reasonable to spend on YouTube. Each of you states how much time you think is reasonable. Then negotiate an amount you can both agree to. Set a time for a week later to evaluate your agreement. Do not correct or reprimand during the week, but if she has not keep to the agreement, tell her at the evaluation that it has not worked for you. If she has not been able to stick to the agreement, that tells you it is too tempting for her to be able to regulate her own time yet. Suggest a time-management tool to help her stop at the agreed on time.

Also, I suggest that as often as you can, watch with her. Let her know you want to know what interests her. Don’t criticize what she watches, instead ask her what it is about the program she enjoys. You can also tell her what you don’t like and why but not as a criticism, only as your opinion. It may teach her to be more discerning, but also, as long as it is age appropriate, let her simply tune out into nonsense—especially if she is a diligent student. We all need to let our brains veg for a short period of time.

The point is you want to be curious not critical. And adjust your expectations—of course she wants sweets when they are in the house, of course she wants to watch drivel on YouTube. It’s when your expectations are unrealistic—She should be able to self-regulate sweets and YouTube if she can do it other places—that your fears get the better of you and you catastrophize future doom.

We punish our children in an attempt to keep them from pushing our buttons, often escalating the original problem into a cycle of anger and blame. When Your Kids Push Your Buttons is not about what to do to your kids to get them to stop pushing your buttons. This book is about how to be the parent you wish you could be-the parent that only you are holding yourself back from.

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